Ashanti is getting her hair and makeup done when we meet at the Grand Hyatt in NYC hours before she performs at St. Francis Preparatory School’s Ultimate Prom.
Pal Miri Ben Ari calls to wish her luck, and her momager Tina sets me up with a chair near the lighted mirror. The 27-year-old singer-actress shows me her “real hair,” which is grows to the middle of her back, before her stylist makes it up into a glamorous up-do.
“My sister was teasing me this morning,” Ashanti tells me. “She said ‘ohh, you’re going to the prom tonight?’ I’ve been out of high school for a long time now but it’s really cute. I think it’s just perfect. My album is called The Declaration, and I know there’s going to be a lot of teens here. It’s good to spread a message of being strong and fearless. They’re graduating – they’re about to really start their lives. It’s a good thing.”
Does it bring back memories?
“Absolutely. I went to four proms – I went to a prom every year of high school. I definitely remember all of those last minute things, and running around. Oh, and my sister had another joke – she said ‘I bought a corsage for you. It’s in the refrigerator.’ I remember all those things so I can imagine what they’re going through.”
It’s been a long road for Ashanti, whose album The Declaration is her first in four years. (Here come the eyelashes.) She shot to fame beginning in 2002 with Foolish, Always On Time and What’s Luv. The Glen Cove, N.Y., native made the Guinness Book of World Records with her self-titled debut for most albums sold in one week by a new female artist. Since her last album, she’s starred in box-office hits including Resident Evil: Extinction, John Tucker Must Die and Coach Carter.
“I’ve matured so much and learned so much personally about this business,” the Grammy winner says. “I took on this project for myself and did everything. It was a learning experience. At times, it was really hard and I did a lot of crying, but now I’m really excited and I have no regrets. Everything was well-worth it.”
Her most personal songs include the title track, The Declaration, which reveal “my weaknesses, my strengths, understanding how to progress and keep pushing,” and The Mother Song, which talks about the bond she shares with her mom.
Hm, what’s it like having her mom for her manager?
“It’s great!” she says. “My mom and I have a unique relationship. It’s more of a friendship as opposed to an authoritative mother-daughter dictatorship. Obviously, nobody’s going to look out for you like your mom. At least I don’t have to worry about her stealing from me.”
Another personal collaboration is Body On Me, which features her beau Nelly.
“He showed me things in studio about trying different things. And he’s hilarious. One thing, he does stay all night. He’s there into the wee, wee hours. He’s a night owl. The longest session I can remember is when we went into the studio around 8 or 9, and left around 2 in the afternoon the next day. It gets long.”
What’s so great about him?
“He’s a great person,” she tells me. “He has a big heart, and again, he has himself together. I learned a lot from him. And he’s a good person.”
(She interjects, “Wait, I’m just looking at my ponytail now. This isn’t going to work.”)
She cackles when asked what they like to do together in their free time, but she does clear up the rumors.
“I don’t have any kids, I’m not pregnant, I’m not married,” she says.
While we’re on rumor patrol, she shoots down false information. She’s doesn’t have Chinese ancestry, and doesn’t own a clothing store in Europe called Princess. She does, however, have a clothing line called Delicious Curves. She says it mirrors her style, which is “classy, sassy and sexy, not too raunchy, not too over-the-top.”
That’s not all. She doesn’t have a diet supplement; it’s a vitamin called Ashanti’s Beauty Blend. “It’s a powdered vitamin,” she tells me. “It’s really good for skin and nails and internally for your immune system. With me traveling so much and going in and out of airports, there’s a lot of germs. It helps build up your immune system and gives energy.
What’s the biggest challenge she’s overcome?
“It was really hard to go in by myself when everything I was accustomed to and comfortable with was yanked away from me. It was really hard to go in – it’s a lot of pressure, a lot of time in between but again you have to learn. That’s how you know you’re growing, when you learn to deal with things and they’re not all gravy.”
The Declaration is in stores now.